Ting Jiang: Promoting Well-being via Behavioral Science Informed Tech and Products



Ting Jiang is a true champion for people living in poverty and facing health disparities. As Founder and President of Mbrella Inc, a peer to peer charitable tech organization that empowers low-income Africans with both basic healthcare access and better financial decisions, she has made it her mission to serve the underserved in the community.

“I measure success by impacts I made to help the world become a healthier and happier place.”

Mbrella was founded based on three main premises: 1. It costs only $60 to cover an entire Kenyan family with the basic health insurance, which can prevent many deaths, especially those of children’s, from life-taking health shocks that are often low-cost curable illnesses, such as diarrheal diseases. Americans can help save lives by co-paying the $60 premium. 2. Aid alone is not sustainable. Donation alone is like giving the fish, without teaching them how to fish. Jiang believes that effective behavioral change intervention on financial decision-making is a new avenue of empowerment because it enables the low-income to grow their income and increase the insurance premium co-payment over-time, and grow out of of dependency on donors with the 6-year “One day, I will be on my own feet” graduation model.

3. Charitable giving is more sustainable when donors can also benefit from it in the long-run. In Mbrella, you don’t donate alone: instead, you support one Kenyan family together with five other donors. This way, more Americans (including the low-income) can join the initiative since it costs only $10 per person. Donors will also be invited to be part of a curious community who discuss and get updated regularly about specific behavioral change interventions. Here, they can learn about how Mbrella applies behavioral science to generate ideas and gather evidence to validate and tweak those ideas. According to Jiang’s vision, these insights should also inspire the donors’ to take actions in their own lives to make better decisions. “Behavioral science is instrumental to many of us who are keen to learn, grow, and acquire good habits to become wealthier and healthier.”

Jiang’s vision for Mbrella weren't the result of her academic experiences, but developed out of her work as Principal of Global Health and Development at the “Center for Advanced Hindsight”, the renowned behavioral science lab at Duke University. At the center, whose mission it is to “Make people happier, healthier and wealthier with behavioral science, at home and abroad”, she spearheaded several initiatives to help low-income Kenyans save more for healthcare. In one of these, which was done in collaboration with the Joep Lange Institute and the PharmAccess Foundation, two foundations based in the Netherlands, Jiang and her team applied CAH’s behavioral science framework and generated many proven product improvement solutions for the mobile health tech product MTIBA. Meanwhile, they also experimented with games and gamification to develop cutting-edge behavioral change solutions to help the low-income make better financial decisions. One of these, an educational game called “Healthy Money”, enables even illiterate parts of the population, ranging from teenagers to middle-aged mothers, to discover and experience the consequences of myopic financial decisions in an emotionally engaging way. The game aims to improve both the understanding of why saving for later is important, what is good and bad spending (in the interest of long-run wealth), and how to act on the improved understanding.

When she saw the potential impact that behavioral science interventions such as a planning calendar or a game could have to help the low-income grow their savings, she became increasingly excited about giving Mbrella, a behavioral science spin-off, its own life. Since March 1st, 2019, she shifted most of her time to prepare for the launch of Mbrella, which is planned for this summer.

However, choosing intentionally to help others isn’t always easy. Three years back she lost her baby as she worked too much taking no notice of how little she ate and slept during the first trimester. It can also flip the life upside down and derail one's schedule. “I haven’t truly figured out yet how to balance work and life…, but since I discovered Argentinian Tango, I feel more balanced,” says Jiang. Now when she isn’t busy changing lives, Ting can be found dancing the Argentine Tango, which she likes to think of as “An art form of a hug between two humans that moves to express the music”. For her, it is not only a great way to unwind or stay fit, but it also helped her learn a lot about management and leadership. “It’s in Tango where I also learned valuable lessons about setting clear intentions for my actions and my dancing partner; to fully embrace and trust any stranger coming my way without any judgment and discover how unique everyone is and how unrelated their appearance is to their quality of communication via dance; and how blessed I feel being embraced and trusted by another human when flowing with the music”, says Jiang, “The music is beautiful, rich and unpredictable, which sometimes brings me to tears while I dance”. In order to find peace and relieve the stress she usually prefers taking a walk in nature—staring at trees, smelling plants and flowers—or swimming in slightly heated water. If given the opportunity, she would treasure the chance of dining out with Alain de Botton (among the living ones) and Michelangelo (among the dead).

Set your Goal

For Ting, life is overall more fulfilling when bringing gains to others’ lives. “My passion to help the underserved, and realization that I had won a birth lottery, while many others did not, often pushes me above the muddiness of mundane issues”, says Jiang. She chooses her team members according to core values which include-- ‘Passion in doing good, Active open-mindedness, Adaptiveness, Conscientiousness’. She adds, “And probably the most important is a healthy level of ego. We encourage our team to have a growth mindset. Innovation often requires failure. We need people who have a healthy level of ego to admit failures and learn from failures, and will contribute to the organizational culture of honest and open communications.”

Though she admits experiencing resistance while leading men “Yes, I do feel it very often though I don’t have evidence that it was the case”. She, however, focuses on staying aligned and productive, “First, make sure there is a personal fit between you and your team (a great method for that is the EOS core values framework). Second, continuously work on co-creation of the vision which includes both your own intention (vision) and the team’s, and clarity in how the team like to contribute both in the short- and long-term, and the kind of communications that ensure their sense of ownership for what they are responsible for. According to my mentor Dan Ariely, giving the team autonomy is one of the, if not the most important factor for motivating the team, and team satisfaction and motivation is a key factor to organizational success.” shares Jiang.

Ting Jiang, Founder & President, Mbrella Inc.

She suggests women who wish to achieve prominent roles in their organizations must try to be brief and clear in communications, and resist the instinct to help. “Strangely, our merits can also act as our enemies. The tendency of women being communicative has lots of advantages, but sometimes it can cause confusion when you explain too much to avoid conflict. Somewhat relatedly, women’s impulse of trying to be helpful, either in the form of giving concrete input or offering to help out when someone experiences setback, can be interpreted as not respecting others’ autonomy”, says Jiang. While trying to be respectful and caring towards the team, “I think maintaining a professional relationship with co-workers is key. Here are two rules of thumb to help men have more confidence in you 1. Don’t be lazy in thinking twice during work discussions, so that you can be thoughtful yet concise in your communication, before you share your thoughts. 2. Be lazy in helping. Do not try to be helpful unless being asked to. And even when asked to help, ask questions to inspire men to come up with own solutions instead of providing them with solutions, and above all, resist at all cost the impulse to help them execute the solutions”.

Her career advice for anyone who wants to move up at work is to first be clear about what they want to achieve via a leadership role. She suggests for both men and women that a leadership role might not be a nice role if what they really want to achieve is not helped by it. “If being a leader only makes you feel good about yourself without making your work more impactful, quit the leader role, for your own long-term wellbeing’s sake”, concludes Jiang.

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